For months, work crews and scaffolding have held hostage the historic Praetorian building at South Sixth Street and Franklin Avenue.
But now it is breaking the shackles associated with remodeling and living up to the potential that developer Peter Ellis saw in it.
Artisans, including Ellis’ wife, Summer, are staking out space on the Praetorian’s fourth floor, where Anthem Studios awaits those with creative juices. The site is a blend of masonry, marble, tile and mahogany, and it has been filling up the past two weeks.
“We have tenants moving in and more on the way. We’re more than halfway full,” Peter Ellis said of the 4,000-square-foot fine-arts enclave.
Space is available for $80 to $800 a month, depending upon size.
Ellis said he offers an array of pricing options for those wanting to share a location. Rates include all bills paid, as well as access to high-bandwith Wi-Fi, a break room and common areas.
Elsewhere, five floors of the vintage 1915 building have been gutted and remodeled for lofts.
Residents occupy all 20 units on those floors and a waiting list has been formed, said a spokeswoman for Waco Loft Living, which manages Behrens, Holiday Hammond and Praetorian historic lofts in downtown Waco.
Loft lease rates range from $795 to $1,295 a month at Praetorian, according to the management firm.
Ellis, 29, a Baylor University graduate who moved to Waco from New Orleans, said he continues to consider options for the first floor.
The space now sits vacant, but has served as home to at least two restaurants. He said he’s considering a cafe or another food-service use.
The Praetorian renovation carries a price tag of about $1 million that includes $116,250 in public Tax Increment Financing money.
With TIF funds, Ellis has removed asbestos; cleaned and repaired exterior windows; and made repairs to the 100-year-old facade.
His plans include installing lights on the roof of the seven-story building and restoring a light display that improves the building’s street visibility.
He also has restored a three-story mural of Jesus Christ extending his arms at the rear of the building, the work of a Russian artist.
The renovation has faced minor delays, one caused by the installation of a fire sprinkler system and alarm.
But Melett Harrison, administrator for Waco’s TIF program, said Ellis received an extension for use of TIF money and should complete the entire project by late spring or early summer.
“Peter pays much more attention to detail than we normally see,” said Harrison, suggesting one reason for the slower pace.
Summer Ellis, a Canadian designer and Baylor graduate, has been crafting jewelry to sell across the United States and Canada. Shops in New Orleans and on the East and West coasts carry her merchandise, but her main studio now resides in the Praetorian.
“We knew downtown was going to turn the corner. There are a lot of things happening, and we’re happy to be part of the creative development we’re seeing,” said Peter Ellis, who began buying investment property in Waco before turning his attention to development.
He now has an office in the Praetorian, from which he can oversee transformation of the iconic structure.
The Praetorian was designed by the Dallas architectural firm C.W. Bulger & Co. in the Chicago school or Modern style of architecture.
It was built in 1915 by Hughes O’Rourke Construction to house the Praetorian Insurance Co., whose main office in Dallas also was designed by Bulger.
Through the years, it also has been called Franklin Tower, the Service Mutual Building and the Southwestern Building.
Chris McGowan, director of urban development for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said the Praetorian is helping meet demand for downtown living space.
“And I applaud efforts to attract and retain artists and creative people. That’s vital to what we’re doing downtown,” he said.
Doreen Ravenscroft, president and director of the Cultural Arts of Waco, an advocacy group, said she is thrilled to hear about Anthem Studios.
“So many times, artists work at home, but they find their art enveloping their home,” Ravenscroft said. “The key is finding a place without exorbitant rent. Artists don’t need fancy accouterments. They usually need only water to clean their instruments.”
Gordon Gandy, a member of the Central Texas Watercolor Society, said he does not lease space in Anthem Studios but has accepted an invitation from Ellis to paint abstract pieces on canvas to be hung in the hallway there and offered for sale.
Chisholm Crossing, a website that dotes on downtown Waco and the people who work and play there, has taken space on the fourth floor.
The Chisholm Crossing website is co-owned by John and Susan Cowley, who have The Cowley Group marketing firm, and Neil Luft, who also owns Internet Imagineering.
“Our business is all about downtown, so we decided we should be downtown in a historic place,” said Lindsey Hurtt, who writes content for the website, which profiles individuals making waves in Waco’s inner city and offers tips to newcomers on dining and entertainment options.